I walked past the campus lunchtime protesters today, twice — once on my way to lunch, and once on my way back. The first time, they were shouting “FUCK THE WALL”. The second time, they had a great dance-line chant of “Hey ho, hey ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” I smiled and gave them a thumbs up both times, but didn’t join in.
Truth be told, I was far more interested in stopping and joining in the first chant than the second, despite the social inadvisability of the Director of Libraries and Applied Learning yelling “FUCK THE WALL” across our academic quad. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a personal fan of President-Elect Trump. I voted for Clinton. I’m actually deeply fearful of what the next two or four or eight years will bring, but the unavoidable fact is that he won the election. Our system upheld its own rules, and assuming we don’t get a bunch of Faithless Electors, the deed is done. Yelling about it won’t change it. The Director of Libraries and Applied Learning won’t be standing on the statue of Minerva and shouting profanities across the quad, but I will be taking action this next year in my own way.
Because those protesters have the right to yell. So do the citizens in this community who are pleased that Trump won.
And that’s the source of my action point number one. The librarians have agreed that we will be doing an informational and educational campaign on campus about the first amendment, the rights and responsibilities of free speech, freedom of information rights and principles, and the power and consequence of social media in a speech and protest environment. Online resources, browsing collections, workshops, seminars in campus Days of Reflection, guest lectures. Whatever we can do.
I’m committed to this course of action for a lot of reasons.
First up, as a librarian, it’s something I believe in. I’m an adherent of the Hall/Voltaire “I will protect your right to say vile things” philosophy, because who defines “vile” is a point of privilege and power, and if we start stripping away the right to say vile things by our definition, we’re offering others the power to strip away our own right to say what they deem to be vile by their definition. Protecting one protects all.
Second, also speaking in my role as librarian, freedom of information is a tenet of my profession that drives my commitment to what we do. It’s all in the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights:
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use
But further, as an educator I have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable in my community, ensuring that they have a safe space to pursue their education. So that means preventing and addressing bias, discrimination, and harassment. By my read, librarianship’s professional Code of Ethics also lays this one out, in numbers 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7.
- We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests.
- We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.
- We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.
- We respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.
- We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
- We do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions.
- We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources.
- We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of co-workers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.
And there’s the final reason why I won’t stand up and should “Donald Trump has got to go” while on work time: numbers 6 and 7 above. I have an obligation, as a professional and as a representative of the State, to distinguish between my personal convictions and my professional duties. I must not advance my private interests at the expense of the comfort and safety of my library users. I must not alienate my community — regardless of which 50% of the electorate best represented their views this political season.
So we’ll be focusing on ensuring our libraries are safe and welcoming to all members of our community, and educating our students about freedom of speech, freedom of information, the role of the State vs the role of the individual, and the powers and pitfalls of all of the above. That is my job. That is my purview. And I will fight for it, red in tooth and claw.
And while that probably won’t change the rhetoric about the wall President-Elect Trump insisted he would build, or change the outcome of the presidential election, or even make my students of color feel any better about the world they live in, I hope that it does one very important thing. I hope it helps to create an empowered, educated, critical electorate in 2018, 2020, and 2024. That is the most important contribution I can make, if I can make it.
And I hope you will consider a similar path in your libraries.